The Thinking of Bruce Reidel
by Charles Lemos, Fri Mar 27, 2009 at 10:38:40 PM EDT
Bruce Reidel was the chair of the Afghanistan Strategic Policy Review. The President in his remarks today lauded his efforts and praised him for influencing his thinking. So what does Bruce Reidel think?
Perhaps the most succinct encapsulation comes from an op-ed published in the New York Times on January 26th, 2009. The op-ed is entitled How Not to Lose Afghanistan and it forms part of the Times' Room for Debate series where the editorial board of the nation's paper of record queries noted analysts for their thoughts. In this case, the Times asked "Barack Obama has said that his priority in the war on terrorism is Afghanistan, and is poised to increase troop levels there, perhaps by as many as 30,000. How should the United States deal with growing strength of the Taliban? Is increasing troop levels enough?" Mr. Reidel in his portion responded:
President Barack Obama is rightly sending thousands more American troops to Afghanistan to reverse the downward spiral in the country where the 9/11 plot was hatched. Seven years of a half-hearted effort by the Bush administration has left the country in a perilous state. Much of the country is now threatened by the resurgent Taliban. The Taliban's leader, Mullah Omar, is confidently predicting the NATO forces will leave defeated within a few years, like the Soviets in 1989, and is even offering them "safe passage" out of the country.
The most immediate needs are near Kabul and in the south around Kandahar. The Taliban has staged increasingly bold attacks into the capital in the last year, almost killing President Hamid Karzai, and the surrounding provinces have seen mounting Taliban operations. If trends continue the capital could be increasingly cut off from the rest of the country.
The south is in even worse shape. For the last two years, British, Canadian and Dutch troops have been fighting desperately to stabilize Kandahar, Helmand and Urzugan provinces against a determined Taliban based across the border in Pakistan. This is the Taliban's traditional heartland where Omar first created the Taliban in the mid-1990s.
We should seek more troops from our NATO allies but also from Muslim allies like Morocco and Indonesia that have a common interest in defeating Al Qaeda. It can be done; already the United Arab Emirates has a few hundred troops in Afghanistan.
More troops must be accompanied by rapid economic development, especially road construction. Since 2001, 2,000 miles of road have been built or repaired but the Kabul government projects a need to build 11,000 miles more to bring security and modest prosperity to the country. Again it can be done; India has just finished a model $1 billion road project in the southwest opening a highway to link landlocked Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean via Iran.
The additional troops also need to train and build a stronger Afghan military. In the 1980s, Afghanistan had an army three times larger and an air force 10 times larger than what seven years of erratic Bush effort has produced. An open-ended large foreign military presence in Afghanistan is a mistake in a country with a history of defeating foreign invaders. Our goal should be a rapid reversal of the Taliban's fortunes followed by turning responsibility over to a trained and equipped Afghan security force.
It thus should not be surprising that President said the following:
Our troops have fought bravely against a ruthless enemy. Our civilians have made great sacrifices. Our allies have borne a heavy burden. Afghans have suffered and sacrificed for their future. But for six years, Afghanistan has been denied the resources that it demands because of the war in Iraq. Now, we must make a commitment that can accomplish our goals.
I've already ordered the deployment of 17,000 troops that had been requested by General McKiernan for many months. These soldiers and Marines will take the fight to the Taliban in the south and the east, and give us a greater capacity to partner with Afghan security forces and to go after insurgents along the border. This push will also help provide security in advance of the important presidential elections in Afghanistan in August.
At the same time, we will shift the emphasis of our mission to training and increasing the size of Afghan security forces, so that they can eventually take the lead in securing their country. That's how we will prepare Afghans to take responsibility for their security, and how we will ultimately be able to bring our own troops home.
For three years, our commanders have been clear about the resources they need for training. And those resources have been denied because of the war in Iraq. Now, that will change. The additional troops that we deployed have already increased our training capacity. And later this spring we will deploy approximately 4,000 U.S. troops to train Afghan security forces. For the first time, this will truly resource our effort to train and support the Afghan army and police. Every American unit in Afghanistan will be partnered with an Afghan unit, and we will seek additional trainers from our NATO allies to ensure that every Afghan unit has a coalition partner. We will accelerate our efforts to build an Afghan army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000 so that we can meet these goals by 2011 -- and increases in Afghan forces may very well be needed as our plans to turn over security responsibility to the Afghans go forward.
This push must be joined by a dramatic increase in our civilian effort. Afghanistan has an elected government, but it is undermined by corruption and has difficulty delivering basic services to its people. The economy is undercut by a booming narcotics trade that encourages criminality and funds the insurgency. The people of Afghanistan seek the promise of a better future. Yet once again, we've seen the hope of a new day darkened by violence and uncertainty.
So to advance security, opportunity and justice -- not just in Kabul, but from the bottom up in the provinces -- we need agricultural specialists and educators, engineers and lawyers. That's how we can help the Afghan government serve its people and develop an economy that isn't dominated by illicit drugs. And that's why I'm ordering a substantial increase in our civilians on the ground. That's also why we must seek civilian support from our partners and allies, from the United Nations and international aid organizations -- an effort that Secretary Clinton will carry forward next week in The Hague.
At a time of economic crisis, it's tempting to believe that we can shortchange this civilian effort. But make no mistake: Our efforts will fail in Afghanistan and Pakistan if we don't invest in their future.
Mr. Reidel's thinking is clearly evident throughout. On January 29, 2009, Mr. Reidel sat for an interview with Bernard Gwertzman of the New York Times. If you take the time to read the interview, you'll find that the White Paper released today by the White House reflects Mr. Reidel's remarks from January.
I noted previously that the internal debate in the White House was largely between the minimalist approach of counter-terrorism favored by Vice President Biden and Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and the more robust counter-insurgency approach favored by by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy to the region, US Central Command leader General David Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Mr. Reidel's views do not fit squarely in either of these camps but his views are closer to those the Holbrooke-Petraeus-Clinton troika than that of Biden and Steinberg. I do think it wise to sit and sift through the White Paper first before offering more commentary but in case you wondering I like Joe Biden. I really like Joe Biden.
As for Mr. Reidel, I must say after spending the day reading some of his work for the Council of Foreign Relations and for the Brookings Institution, I appreciate his realism. It is at the very least reassuring to note that the hour of the neo-conservatives has passed.
Tags: Af-Pak Strategic Policy Review, Afghanistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Bruce Reidel, pakistan, President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, US Foreign Policy, Vice President Biden (all tags)